29 July 2012

Three Violent People

Three Violent People A Flawed, Fun Western Romp
By Kristin Battestella

Alas, here we are at another one of my affectionately coined, ‘Heston Hokeys’.  1956’s Three Violent People has the potential for some good western drama and action, but one inescapable element unintentionally and humorously stands out, even if it technically doesn’t exist.

Ex- woman of the night from St. Louis Lorna Hunter (Anne Baxter) stumbles into wild post-war Texas and meets Confederate cavalry Captain Colt Saunders (Charlton Heston). Their whirlwind romance leads to marriage, and with her past unknown to Colt, the newlyweds settle in at the Bar S Ranch.  When Colt’s black sheep brother Cinch (Tom Tryon) returns to the homestead and carpet bagging commissioner Cable (Forrest Tucker) demands back taxes and restitutions, blackmail opportunities and the exposure of Lorna’s past threaten all.

Director Rudolph Mate (The 300 Spartans) opens the titular violence with a fast fight in the streets and plenty of post Civil War unrest.  Witty confusion and mistaken introductions follow, setting up the proposed marital bliss.  But only…dun dun dun! What’s worse than a prostitute past? A one armed brother! The audience would think Colt’s noble but rough attitude coming to a head over his wife’s secret would be enough drama- there’s absolutely no need for a reckless, wounded brother going nowhere angle. Had the sibling rivalry and amputation injury been the focus of the tale and dealt with in its proper heavy, Three Violent People wouldn’t feel hokey at all. Unfortunately, the entire aspect is played so askew. The over the top drama is too much scandal and not enough pain.  Which burden takes precedence- the brother or the fact that his wife didn’t tell him she’s a working girl?  We’re supposed to like Lorna’s sass, but she’s quite a liar. She had the immediate opportunity to own up. Hey, people had to do things of which they weren’t exactly fond during the war. Is this coming clean what Three Violent People’s about? Toss scheming carpetbaggers into the mix with guns and blackmail and things become just a bit uneven.  Touches of cavalry action, Confederacy regret, and reconstruction dilemmas are also light amid the romance and scruples.  Three Violent People feels as if it could have been epic, sweeping, and massive. However, the weird lens on our three little people and their hill of beans is slow, ill plodding, and nothing new. Though not a typical western and seemingly a more womanly oriented vehicle, there are still too many Victorian clichés- don’t faint over the big reveal, Lorna!  Where’s all the supposed indiscretion in Three Violent People? How could it all boil down to an illicit pregnancy? They’re married. How illicit could it be?

Well, Anne Baxter makes a bemusing entrance in that stunning red dress!  We’re accustomed to her sexy, husky sound in All About Eve and The Ten Commandments, so the Southern accent feels somewhat iffy, but the reddish hairstyling looks good. These put ons just take some getting used to- as does Lorna’s attitude. Sure, she doesn’t mean to deceive Colt and create a gold digging plan- or maybe such thoughts did occur to Lorna? When swept off her feet to become Mrs. Saunders, perhaps this falling in love and feeling as if she belongs really does come to mean her all? With this vague emotional beginning, what could possibly go wrong? Lorna’s even befrocked in symbolic white dresses and good ranch wife attempts- we should be rooting for this triumph over her past. However, it all seems too rocky and wayward to care. The prostitution revelation isn’t even the tipping point; Lorna’s producing a tainted heir is what makes things go sour. After all the laid on thick positive relationship possibilities, the back and forth hatred comes on so quickly. Are we still supposed to like them when they hate each other? We don’t even get to see Lorna pregnant! It’s mentioned, and then Three Violent People cuts to snow on the ranch and the doctor being called.  All the great period Texas at large potential is dropped for this roller coaster romance, yet we can’t even tell if we’re supposed to feel for the lady or despise her. These missteps seriously hamper the audiences’ interests, but Baxter does her best in keeping the whirlwind entertaining.  Lorna’s ultimate threat to NRA pimp Charlton Heston? “If I had a gun!”

Ah yes, Moses himself!  Baxter’s Ten Commandments co-star looks good in a cowboy hat and fills the buckskin coat and stocky persona needed for Colt Saunders’ strong, hard man reputation. Although the fifties punches and fight scenes are obviously pulled, the Confederate captain- snappy in his full gray uniform- carries respect and valor along with some forced mid-century sex appeal. Chuck, unbuttoned to the naval and lying on the bed, putting Lorna over his knee and letting the hoop skirt fly up! The ‘Oh My!’ isn’t so scandalous today, and mixed signals don’t help. Is Three Violent People funny or sexy? There aren’t any cute music cues or laugh tracks, but Colt’s banter isn’t as tantalizing as it should be. For a supposedly high-end gentleman, he’s easily off on the wrong foot with the ladies. The humble, golly gee, runaround aspects stilt Heston, and the tacked on speaking Spanish feels phony. The rough, worn, and multidimensional capabilities from Heston have no depth in the script; Colt doesn’t even speak that much in Three Violent People.  He can keep a scene together as needed and Heston’s presence makes up for some of the backward character development, but it’s tough to believe Colt’s tumultuous emotions and conflicting actions. He’s angry with Lorna. He kicks her out. He drags her back. He doesn’t want her to be pregnant. He will pay her to have his child.  Oiy! And remember a marriage proposal and a kiss from Charlton Heston is “not the least bit like double entry book keeping, is it?”  What?

Now, despite some scripting faults and poor character development, one might think that Three Violent People doesn’t sound that hokey, or in the least, not as bad as the killer ants and mail order brides guilty pleasure of Heston’s The Naked Jungle. Perhaps this picture isn’t cheesy in itself, no.  Except today’s viewer might not be able to see past the unbelievable ridiculousness that is Tom Tryon as Colt’s angry one-armed brother Cinch.  Yes, Tryon (later author of The Other, who knew?) has both his limbs and features, and Three Violent People unintentionally makes the exact thing Cinch isn’t supposed to have incredibly obvious. His first scene is shirtless, yes- Cinch is meant to be the sizzling, wild, dangerous younger brother who resembles his onscreen kin in no way whatsoever. Every stance and camera angle accentuates the poor trickery; it’s as if Cinch has his fictitious hand on his hip. The editing cutaways to avoid completely showing the ill begotten right side are forced into the frames at the wrong times, thus ruining the narratives and heavy conversations. Cinch is both cut and spliced into the film! Not to mention all this trouble is for someone who today would be considered unimportant in comparison to the leads, adding more flame to Three Violent People’s uneven and distracting fire.  My goodness, cast someone of equal caliber, go with a limp, and save yourself the trouble of turning Three Violent People into a farce. I know I sound harsh in some of this one-armed bemusement, but this is a completely fake and unrealistic representation of an amputee, and it sidelines the entire picture.

Unfortunately, on top of the brotherly angst gone tucked behind one’s back, Three Violent People also hinders itself with very stereotypical African American treatments. All the servants are portrayed as giggling, happy folk seemingly blissfully unaware that the Civil War has just transpired.  The Bar S ranch hands are handled slightly better thanks to a charming performance from Gilbert Roland (The Bad and the Beautiful) as foreman Innocencio, but the rest of the Mexican workers fumble with their English and must be prodded into remembering to remove their sombreros. They drink too much, sing off key, speak like Speedy Gonzales; their women weep, they all have a dozen kids, and everyone is related.  At best, it’s as if the subordinates of Three Violent People simply weren’t given a second thought in regards to the time portrayed or the fifties mentality at work.  At worst, the Black and Spanish are deliberately made small and simple in every aspect in order to make the White Ranch Master look good. These mistakes don’t take up much of the movie, but they are glaringly painful for today’s viewers when they do happen.
Thankfully, there is some period panache accenting Three Violent People. Fun music and folks whistling ‘Dixie’- literally- add to the Technicolor candlelight and frilly Victorian furnishings. This is a very colorful film, perhaps too fifties inaccurate thanks to the colorful ladies costumes. Did the gals really wear all that glitter and shine with full width hoop hems way out in the post-war wilderness? Due to the clean cut filming of the time, even the working girls seem overdressed compared to the now standard imagery of exposed corsets, petticoats, and naughty lace. Baxter’s yellow dress certainly brightens a room, but honestly, it looks completely 1950s before 1850s. Outside of a few buttoned up and proper frocks, most of Lorna’s stylized necklines and modern tops don’t match the over packed, reserved bottoms. Her low cut pink number looks 1955 off the rack vintage! Even for a fan of costuming, there are too many unnecessary swoopings, twirlings, and focuses on those big skirts. We notice the dresses; seriously, we can’t miss ‘em!   Likewise, the Bar S interior sets are cool, but a little weird.  There’s lots of stone and big Old World style akinning the grand- but apparently only two room- house to a transported Spanish castle. However, wooden beams, barrels, cobwebs, and ropes hang about the place, too.  Like the rest of Three Violent People, the decoration is a little lacking in scale and sweeping scope. There are nice Union and cavalry designs and lovely outdoor scenery, but it’s not enough.

When I was a kid, for years I didn’t know the name of this movie. I just referred to it as, ‘The other Heston one with the flashy Anne Baxter costumes and the guy who so didn’t have the one arm.’ Delighted fashionistas can study Baxter’s stunning but erroneous gowns, granted. Otherwise, Three Violent People is a plodding, back and forth, double crossing, slow talking western with contrived plotting and too little of the expected action. Some viewers will certainly tune out of all this ridiculous pretentiousness, understandably. Yet all these faults don’t mean Three Violent People isn’t entertaining. One really can enjoy the potentially quality storylines and performances- so long as you take the classic corny, expected flaky, and unintentional humor, too. Unbemused audiences who don’t appreciate this hokey will find there simply isn’t much else here- although contemporary viewers can make a drinking game of that damnable arm. I mean, when he’s hanging off the back of the wagon with the sleeve flapping in the wind! Seriously, my cat’s eyes were dancing at the prospects! Laugh, delight, and indulge your id unabashedly with Three Violent People

10 July 2012

Deep Space Nine Season 2

Deep Space Nine Season 2 Improves, Thankfully.
By Kristin Battestella

After the faulty onset of the Star Trek spinoff Deep Space Nine, the series’ second season has a lot of damage control on its hands. Fortunately, things are much better for this 93-94 Year Two. 

Bajoran and Cardassian relations are not going too well, and Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his Bajoran liaison Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) are caught in the middle of the tensions along with Deep Space Nine.  Maquis rebellions against the Federation and trouble on the other side of the wormhole in the Gamma Quadrant aren’t making life on the station any easier for Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) and Doctor Julian Bashir (Siddig El Fadil).  Security Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois) is still seeking his place as a shapeshifter among the humanoids on DS9, but Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman) is looking for profit through the wormhole with a little group called The Dominion.

Deep Space Nine begins to come into its own with a great three-part opener, “The Homecoming,” “The Circle,” and “The Siege.” Multi part and in depth storylines give this series a chance to establish itself beyond The Next Generation copies and traditional Trek ideals. The heavy “The Jem’Hadar” finale, other smartly planted touches regarding the Dominion enemy, and Mirror Universe examinations in “Crossover” further define the uneasy amid the supposedly tranquil.  Yes, the Mirror plots may seem like a cop out way to spotlight our players by showing how they alternatively could be so bad. However, these properly used insights and ties to the original Star Trek in “Blood Oath” add nostalgia and older creditability to DS9’s repertoire.  Besides, Mirror treats are always a fun, healthy way to twist things without doing a throwaway comedy episode like “Rivals.” There is definitely something more to Deep Space Nine beyond the TNG dark side and Trek filler. Some players on DS9, it turns out, don’t like each other very much; comings and goings on the station are not always what they seem, as showcased in “Sanctuary” and the aptly named “Cardassians.”  The Late season “Maquis I and II” gets right to the core of DS9’s growing specialty.  The idyllic Federation life way back on Earth can’t handle all the frontier trouble facing Deep Space Nine, can it?  

However, there are still plenty of troubles on Deep Space Nine.  We’re stuck on a dark and dated space station, and the confined setting and wayward plotting feel like a step down in production, even amateurish. We don’t see wondrous explorations from week to week, and some of the compensating alien makeup is either too weird and inconceivable or ho hum humanoid. Really, dudes with prosthetic giblets over their lips yet they’re still drinking synthehol at Quark’s?  Internal episode pacing is also patchy. There’s a lot going on on this show, perhaps too much.  TNG filler, TOS homage, dry Bajoran politics, Cardissian angst, Maquis trouble, and Dominion rumblings along with character bottle shows.  Can one series, let alone one season of a show, handle all that? While there have been considerable storyline strides since the first season, the viewer is still expected to wait on the supposedly major and important plots for an offshoot fluff show. The 26-episode order seems so long today, almost feeling as if it is an excuse to meander.  We’re two seasons in now, and this is really an awful lot of episodes for us to not intimately know all our players.  Some finer episodes still come across as TNG retreats, too. Crowded and spotty A and B or C storylines still don’t give the audience the vital character development we need.  Though Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) is great as guest star Vedek Winn and Frank Langella’s (Frost/Nixon) surprise Minister Jaro is a treat; I’m kind of tired of Bajoran corruption and Kai politics.  How many times can we go round and round because it’s so important yet have its resolutions disappear for 20 episodes?  Deep Space Nine feels so roundabout thanks to this burden of riches, and the series does tread some water this season while trying to find its place. 

Fortunately, individual episodes like “Second Sight” create more interest and romance for Benjamin Sisko. Although “Paradise” is another sub par TNG plot, a strong performance from Brooks allows Sisko to step it up as needed, seen likewise in his battles with Gul Dukat in “The Maquis I and II.”  It’s also wonderful to see his alternate rogue in “Crossover,” simply because Mirror Sisko is much more head-to-head and badass.  We know Sisko can do much more; it’s just a matter of giving Brooks episodes with enough room to shine.  Also lacking in episodic focus is Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko. The commander’s son is still too absentee for a regular character family dynamic, but his storylines are pleasing when we get them- as seen in the “The Jem’Hadar” finale. Thankfully, the explorations for Major Kira are observed through different lenses in “Crossover,” “Sanctuary,” and “Necessary Evil.”  Her relationship with Philip Anglim as Vedek Bariel in “The Collaborator” just feels left field stale and unnecessary, yes. It’s not easy for the former militant to find herself in this newfound peace and uniting with the less than perfect Federation, but we know who Kira is, was, and wants to be. No man is needed to define the character anyway, and the already given opportunities for family and relationships get shafted. However, Kira’s uneasy peaceful parallels are a nice embodiment of the gloomy Trek trying to come across on Deep Space Nine.  

Colm Meaney as Miles O’Brien is also his usual steady in “Tribunal,” “Armageddon Game,” and the perfectly un-Trek “Whispers.”  They don’t do much to expand the character, but more reasons for the audience to love O’Brien are always a good thing.  I don’t know why the writers seem to have a go-to for letting people mess with the Chief!  Rosalind Chao’s Keiko is again underutilized in terms of appearances and realistic marriage representations, unfortunately. Why create couples of the week when you have a married regular? I digress. At least Chao provides solid marital support when tasked. Rene Auberjonois is also superb in “The Alternate.” His unique outlook and begrudging attitude are a welcome change of pace in the usually happy Trek family, and Odo stands out whether he has a few moments or an entire centric episode.  Similarly, even if you find the Ferengi too outright comedic, Armin Shimerman as Quark and Ferengi focused shows like “Rules of Acquisition” are wonderfully insightful and revealing. The Ferengi are supposedly so corrupt, merely an imperfect race of ugly little trolls compared to pleasant Trek pretties. Nevertheless, DS9 shows us so much more- including the plight of female Ferengi and the loveably cranky Wallace Shawn as Grand Nagus Zek.  Max Grodenchik as Quark’s brother Rom and Aron Eisenberg as nephew Nog are always endearing, too.  If I had to choose between musty, sluggish Deep Space Nine filler and misuses of Odo like “Shadowplay” or Ferengi fun like “Profit and Loss,” I say bring on the latinum.

Once again, despite several Trill centric episodes- including “Invasive Procedures,” “Playing God,” and “Blood Oath”- we still don’t know that much about Jadzia herself. Strangely, we know a lot more about prior Dax hosts while Jadzia remains the stagnant but pretty talking head tech babbler.  Big whoop. On the rare occasion she does give an answer or contribution, it’s usually a convenient experience from the symbiont. Likewise still underdeveloped, even Bashir focused shows like “Melora” aren’t actually about him.  We know he’s a compassionate doctor in a budding O’Brien friendship- a doctor who plays racquetball in the subpar “Rivals.” Wow.  Fortunately, the recurring players are once more perfection. The transitions for Bajor and the Federation aren’t supposed to be easy, but imagine if Marc Alaimo were taking the piss as Dukat at every morning meeting. It’d be more interesting than Jake’s few and far between nothing new teenage drama. The second tier regulars should be developed more or they should make room for the waiting in the wings recurring characters.  We don’t know much about them either, but they are intriguing, mysterious, and the allure keeps Deep Space Nine going when the these limp regulars fail.  Andrew Robinson’s Garak is again wonderful in “The Wire.” Seriously, why isn’t there a regular Cardassian always on the show? Mary Crosby (Dallas) also gives us a fine female Cardassian spin in “Profit and Loss,” and John Colicos, Michael Ansara, and William Campbell are also great Klingons in homage to TOS in “Blood Oath.”

The problems that plagued Year 1 are still felt here in Round 2, definitely, and there is still a long way to go towards Trek greatness. However, with its tighter possibilities, budding promises and potential, and less reliance on its predecessors, Deep Space Nine Season 2 feels like a far, far better introduction to this series. Dare I say it, but those completely new to Trek may even forgo Season 1 altogether and begin fresh here.  Even in a feeling long season, there are only a handful of less than stellar episodes here to stall an audience, making Season 2 of Deep Space Nine a vast improvement over its rocky beginnings.

05 July 2012

Summer Fantasy Fun

Fantasy Summer Fun
By Kristin Battestella

What better way to beat the heat than with a fanciful and adventurous eighties staycation?

Heavy Metal – Though the Heavy Metal 2000 sequel is decent, this 1981 anthology has all the action, sex, humor, scares, and heroism needed for a cult classic. Obviously, great music from the likes of Stevie Nicks, Journey, Cheap Trick, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath and more contributes to the beloved status. Vocal skills from John Candy (Who’s Harry Crumb?), Eugene Levy (American Pie), and Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters) lend weight to such memorable tales as “Den” and the stoning, far out “So Beautiful and So Dangerous”.  I love the zombies of “B-17,” for they are still scary to me after all these years.  There’s delightful everyman amid the fantastic treats with “Harry Canyon” and “Captain Stern,” too.  Sure, the framing story might be a bit thin, but the lovely, sweeping, and orchestral finale “Taarna” concludes it all in perfect fantasy fashion.  Some of the animation and design will look poorly or disjointed to audiences today thanks to multiple sources, directors, and techniques of the time. However, Heavy Metal was also ahead of its time then, and it’s still impressive overall. Besides, there’s something to be said for cartoons just for adults, too. This is a sexy, gross, slightly evil, and well-done collection.

Lovespell – Richard Burton (Cleopatra), Nicholas Clay (Excalibur), and Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) star in this somewhat obscure 1981 Tristan and Isolt tale. The old speaketh titles are tough to read onscreen, but lovely music, stunning locales, ancient castles, and appropriately early medieval costumes and décor set the mood perfectly.  This isn’t high knights and chivalry mockery, but the accents and period dialogue will be tough for some. There are no subtitles on the poor video release, either. Thankfully, Mulgrew is feisty and enchanting while Burton is somewhat jerky and overbearing, as expected. He also looks a bit too old for the super young Kate. However, who else could be the King of Cornwall? Both are perfectly cast to match their historical parts. Unfortunately, Clay’s inferior, weak Tristan hampers the picture. His poufy hair, lame delivery, droopy pouts, and soft focus scenes irrevocably date the film and take away from Burton’s more skilled presence.  The melodrama and love story elements are a bit simple, indeed, and such to die for love happens too, too fast before it all falls apart in the end.  The scale and story could have been tighter, but the period elegance is mighty entertaining for genre audiences or youthful, fanciful medieval fans. Though not a fantasy so much as a straight telling of the corresponding Arthurian legend, the magical charm wins here.

Somewhat Split

The Sword and the Sorcerer – Lee Horsley’s (Nero Wolfe, Paradise) 1982 yarn will certainly be entertaining for those who grew up on sword and sorcery pictures or audiences that like the eighties B fantasy style. One can take the humor and mistakes here and have a drinking game good time. There’s a lot of fun in the story and potential for more, too. Perhaps that’s while I feel so torn- this could have been something great and memorable like the Conan films or The Beastmaster.  Unfortunately, if you go into this picture in your right mind, everything ends up kind of a mess. Some plot points simply make no sense whatsoever, and the action is woefully slow motion nonsensical. There is hardly any of the titular evil sorcerer, nor enough medieval fantasy boobs for an R rating today. The bad dialogue has not stood the test of time, nor has Lee Horsley. I’m not even really sure why he’s that famous, yet everyone knows his name.  I’d give this finally available supposed sequel in spirit Tales of an Ancient Empire a chance, though- even if it is probably most of the same.

And a Recent Skipper

Your Highness – There’s no wit, bad dialogue, lots of course language, and plenty of flat jokes from the very big, well known cast here. James Franco (127 Hours) I swear is mocking us, but Natalie Portman (Black Swan) should have known better. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) is on form, Damien Lewis (Band of Brothers) is a fun jerk, and Toby Jones (Frost/Nixon) is perfectly twisted. Unfortunately, the anachronisms, poor sex references, and a too over the top without the intelligence of Men in Tights focus ruin the quality production values, decent music, and goofy but good costumes.  Zooey Deschanel (New Girl) is cute, but somehow she’s still playing the same 21st century quirky girl. The bad effects and singing are a no, and the cutting off the Minotaur’s penis thing just takes it all way too far. Medieval comedy can be done well, but not when one is either stoned in the making or needs to be stoned to watch.  And who the hell is Danny McBride?

03 July 2012


Haywire Imperfect but a lot of Fun
By Kristin Battestella

Former Marine and private operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is on the run from her hit contractor boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) after a failed undercover mission with MI-6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) in which she was set up.  As if the global chase and alluding of the local authorities wasn’t bad enough, Spanish contact Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) and the mysterious G-man Coblenz (Michael Douglas) are also playing sides on the double-crossing spy and mercenary intrigue. Who has framed Mallory? Whom can she trust? As fellow team member and one time lover Aaron (Channing Tatum) pursues Mallory, she races to prove her innocence. Now, if only she could keep her dad John (Bill Paxton) from worrying about the takedown.

Director Steven Soderbergh’s (Erin Brocovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) recent idea to place Mixed Martial Arts star Gina Carano as the female lead in his action thriller was indeed a smart, unique, and worth a look move. Haywire opens equal to this premise with an intense bar fight and continues the intrigue and spy pacing. Slow motion and black and white uses do add an edge to the fighting setup, but perhaps they are also overused just a bit. We’ve seem so many others cleverly slice and dice towards a badass action scene, and thus the audience expects a certain amount of over the top explosions or nonsensical rah rah thrill a minute something to look at faire. By contrast, Haywire’s action sequences are played in full scope with little dialogue, only faint music, and mostly diegetic sounds. Yes, this fine, heavy, realistic approach will seem dry to those expectant viewers thanks to dialogue problems and a confusing, thin script muddling the action. While it may be part of the point to not know who is who or what side they are on- Who are we to trust? Who is checking up on whom and really doing the two-timing? - some people and events are just seriously unclear.  Private contractors, freelancers, MI-6, corrupt governments- toss in a flashback timeframe and lux global locations and a viewer can get perplexed. It takes some figuring to realize the intercutting frame, and it can all seem tough to chew for a ninety minute yarn.  We aren’t used to this type of highbrow action attempt, after all.

Fortunately, wit, humor, and sardonic stars keep Haywire entertaining. Despite having no acting experience, this is very much Gina Carano’s film. She’s sassy, badass, and yet classy, and Carano does very well as a believable woman who can deliver the lines and the ass kicking. This isn’t Pamela Anderson in Barbed Wire with an itty bitty corset and strategically placed bubble bath.  Such an indulgent film has its purpose, sure; but the fact that Haywire doesn’t treat its heroine as such eye candy is refreshing. Mallory is most definitely capable of getting out of a screwed situation. Carano knows how to fight and no choreography cheats or tricks are taken onscreen. Yes, she’s sexy and attractive, but Mallory is a realistically fit and healthy woman molded more by her sarcasms, skill, and personality.  In fact, the character herself directly objects to being used for looks and arm candy in a dress. And yet does such sense of classic, hip, spy style stop Mallory from doing what needs to be done? Nope.  The audience knows Carano’s can still get beasty in this wardrobe, and it’s all the hotter that Mallory isn’t resorted to using feminine wiles. Although I’m not sure why they felt the need to alter Carano’s voice for the character in postproduction, it is very pleasing to see an actress who is really driving the car and doing a sweet job of it!  The viewer can forgive Haywire’s flaws because Mallory is easy to root for and Carano doesn’t come across as used and abused stunt casting.

As much as some male audiences or empowered female viewers will tune in to Haywire for Carano, there’s plenty of man fun here, too.  Ewan McGregor looks great as always, and he always looks different every time you see him.  His Kenneth is a bit of a weasel, something we may find unexpected after McGregor’s heroic turns in the Star Wars prequels or his vintage heavies like Trainspotting. But Obi-Wan does the sleaze quite smashingly here.  Kenneth is supposedly slick and operative cool, yet he can’t control Mallory or the double bait and switch operation.  He’s desperate, hanging on by a spy thread, and ends up a little under served by the script. McGregor does his best with what ultimately becomes fairly light material, but Kenneth should have been more. Where is the one on one reflection and betrayal and complete history with Mallory? The beachside fight with Carano is well done, even if it feels rushed and ultimately kind of silly.  He gets his foot stuck under a rock, really? McGregor and Michael Fassbender have one fun bar scene, but again, it’s not enough. And speaking of The Fass, his Paul appears too briefly about halfway thru Haywire. This MI-6 man has a hint of RP and looks totally Bondian, I must say.  Bond, Bond, Bond, Bond, Bond!  Paul has the badass equipment, swanky style, and most importantly, knows his own wicked and weaponry. Like his scene stealing turns in Inglourious Basterds and Prometheus, Fassbender’s handling of a cigarette, blowing the smoke, and taking a swig of whiskey makes the audience take notice. Paul’s every gesture and action is a crafty hint of something else in his espionage and subterfuge.  I don’t think he’s here for more than a half hour, but Fassbender’s character is critical in Mallory’s set up and may be the most entertaining man in Haywire. The melee between Carano and Fassbender brings a rough, sexy energy to the picture, and it genuinely looks like his day of work hurt. New lady Fass fans might be disappointed at his smaller appearance here, but die-hard gals will enjoy his “All yours” toweled and shirtless moment. And I must say, it is nice to have men being as disposable and mishandled as the usual Bond Girl types!

Unlike Fassbender’s allure, unfortunately, I can’t say Haywire benefits from the non-existent, dry, spaced out charisma of Channing Tatum. I know everyone is giggly over his and Soderbergh’s Magic Mike right now (How quickly audiences forget the oh so wonderful The Full Monty!) but I see no appeal in anything in which I’ve seen him thus far.  How has he not only lasted in Hollywood, but also gotten bigger? I’m totally miffed. Tatum should be Haywire’s second male lead after McGregor due to his early screen time. However, he’s just completely inferior to everyone else in the show.  The script doesn’t give this Aaron character much, granted, but Tatum’s outplayed by Carano’s zest and sparkle every time he’s onscreen. He drags everything down when he’s enters stage left, and Haywire needs its players’ appeal to keep the picture afloat. It’s the Keanu of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There’s no reason to care about Aaron one way or the other, and the make out scene with Carano feels totally forced, shoehorned, and useless. The clothed fight scene with Fassbender is much more entertaining.

They aren’t that bad, but Michael Douglas (The Streets of San Francisco, there’s an obscure reference for you!) and Antonio Banderas (must I?) are too brief for their full on cool.  All they do is talk about what is supposed to happen or literally call each other on the phone to argue which is the boss and who’s doing the double talk and double crossing. It’s simply a real waste to have such stars essentially doing voiceovers.  There’s room for intrigue, but the audience expects more intensity ala Traffic, some wheeling, dealing, and face-to-face confrontations. Who wouldn’t love to see Michael Douglas chew out Ewan McGregor for a bit longer than 30 seconds? Haywire might have better served its ensemble had there been a complete road movie or physical chase aspect beyond the death threat by smartphone ploys. Soul searching Mallory cutting from location to location with the crisscrossed pursuers just one step behind. Do these people actually ever meet? When we have antagonists who don’t even see each other, it can leave the battle feeling a tad hollow. Bill Paxton has more to do as Mallory’s dad, but I’m just not ready to see him in such sitting back, fatherly roles. Are we not still watching Aliens and Twister?

Fortunately, the scoring and action fit Haywire’s chic Bond design.  The lighting, blue hues, over-saturated color, or soft candle light dresses the scenery as needed from location to location.  It’s all moody, well lit, and crafty- even if it also feels kind of low end and cheap at the same time.  We also don’t see much of those drive-by locations- just title cards saying where we are allegedly globe trotting.  It’s smart, if obvious. We’re jet setting without actually having any jet setting really taking place- though the Irish locales and snow scenery are sweet fun when we do get them.  Alas, I can’t say the same for those annoying blu-ray rental trailers.  Although the features seem short in comparison to other special video releases- behind the scenes on Carano’s training and MMA history and spotlights on all the boys- there isn’t really any need for more. The menu design and interface is also disagreeable and painful. Just to get to the subtitles was a confusing accomplishment!

Not all audiences or standard action fans will like the highbrow trade off from the expected standard beef action, but Haywire is a step up from the nineties pinnacle of bad action we secretly love.  Haywire wants to be upscale and thoughtful with Bourne edge or Lady Bond style. Sometimes it succeeds and other times it falls into Segal-esque trappings with under developed scripting and low budget, unfinished feelings.  Is Haywire that bad or a film waste? Certainly not.  Could it have been better? Yes.  Thanks to all the big names involved, some viewers will simply see a lot of disappointment.  As is, I’m not sure if there’s room for a Mallory Kane sequel but Carano deserves further film success.  Haywire concludes with an easy, fun ending, and though imperfect, it’s an entertaining escape. Take it for what it is and enjoy the ride as things go Haywire.